Would you like to make sure your citizens serving in the military overseas have an opportunity to vote in local elections?

A new law gives municipalities the right to initiate an administrative reform that will make it easier for those overseas, particularly those serving in the military, to vote in local elections. The short time between the February 22nd, 2011 and April 5th, 2011 elections makes it nearly impossible for overseas voters to vote in both elections. The new state law solves this disenfranchisement by allowing municipalities to use a special ranked ballot for overseas and military absentee voters. The City of Springfield already uses ranked voting for overseas citizens, as do Arkansas, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

If you want to protect your overseas voters, all you have to do is pass an ordinance. For more information about this new state law to protect military voters, click on the links above.

The Problem

While military and overseas citizens are given the right to vote by absentee ballots in all elections, this right is constantly compromised by the short time between February and April local elections. From one election round to the next, votes need to be counted, results certified, new ballots printed, mailed to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and mailed back to Illinois. In 2011, local elections will be held February 22nd and April 5th. How can we expect someone serving in Afghanistan to get a ballot and send it back in forty-one days? The short time period between the two rounds of elections disenfranchises overseas voters, plain and simple.

Federal agencies like the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the Federal Voting Assistance Program of the U.S. Department of Defense recommend that ballots be mailed to overseas voters at least 45 days before an election. This is simply not possible within the time frame of local elections, and as a result, overseas voters are unable to stay connected to their community's democratic process.

The Solution

A new Illinois law (Public Act 095-0889) allows any municipality to use a special ranked ballot for overseas absentee voters for the April election. The overseas voter casts both the February and the April ballots in January and sends them both back—the February ballot is unchanged while the special ranked April ballot lists all the candidates that may appear on the April ballot. Why list all the candidates in April? Because we don’t know which candidates will still be in contention. The voter ranks candidates on the April ballot, and their vote will go to whomever they have ranked the highest that made it to the April election. This way, the overseas voter gets to vote in both elections, and the ballot makes it back in time for their votes to count.

The City of Springfield has already implemented ranked ballots for overseas citizens and will use it for their 2011 municipal elections. Springfield passed this reform by referendum in 2007; 23,440 voters, or 91% of the population, voted for it.

Illinois’ new law amended the election code so that municipalities can pass an ordinance and require election authorities to provide these special ranked ballots for overseas absentee voters in local elections. The election authority must submit a written statement attesting to their ability to administer the ranked ballots pursuant to rules issues by the State Board of Elections before the municipality can implement the ordinance. In the end, the solution is an easy administrative change that will preserve the rights of those voters who risk their lives to protect ours.

The following states have also adopted ranked ballots for military and overseas voters:

Louisiana has used this system since 1990. The Arkansas legislature initially adopted ranked ballots for military voters only; in 2007, it voted unanimously to extend the program to all overseas voters.

Tools for Implementation

- Find the full text of Public Act 095-0889 here.

- The rules promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Elections can be viewed as a pdf here.

- A draft ordinance (download here):

Draft Ordinance 09-xxxx

Whereas overseas and military voters are given the full voting rights of American citizens and have the right to vote in all elections,

Whereas the time between February 22nd primary and April 5th general municipal elections makes it impossible for election authorities to send and receive both ballots, thereby disenfranchising overseas absentee voters,

Whereas the Illinois General Assembly has enacted Public Act 095-0889, which allows municipalities to utilize ranked ballots for overseas absentee voters in order to ensure that they are not disenfranchised,

Be it enacted by the ____ City Council / Village Board / Town Council as follows:

Pursuant to Public Act 095-0889, signed into law on August 22, 2008 and effective on January 1, 2009, the City/Village/Town of ____ hereby enacts ranked ballots in municipal elections for all overseas absentee voters. This is pursuant to a statement of feasibility from the ___ County Clerk/___ Election Commission and is to be consistent with the rules promulgated by the Illinois Board of Elections.

PASSED by the City Council / Village Board / Town Council of the City/Village/Town of _____ at a regular meeting held on the ___ day of ___, 2009.

- A draft Statement of Feasbility, to be signed by a County Clerk/County Election Commission (download here):

To The City Council / Town Council / Village Board of ______,

I attest and certify that our office is able to administer and collect special ranked ballots for ____’s municipal elections, pursuant to Public Act 095-0889, following the rules promulgated by the Illinois Board of Elections.

Signed by the ____ County Clerk / Election Commission.

- For more information and resources, contact Dan Johnson-Weinberger at 312-933-4890, or at dan@progressivepublicaffairs.com.